Radiation mechanisms and geometry of cygnus X-1 in the soft state

Marek Gierliński (Lead / Corresponding author), Andrzej A. Zdziarski, Juri Poutanen, Paolo S. Coppi, Ken Ebisawa, W. Neil Johnson

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383 Citations (Scopus)


We present X-ray/γ-ray spectra of Cyg X-1 observed during the transition from the hard to the soft state and in the soft state by ASCA, RXTE and CGRO/OSSE in 1996 May and June. The spectra consist of a dominant soft component below ∼2keV and a power-law-like continuum extending to at least ∼800 keV. We interpret them as emission from an optically thick, cold accretion disc and from an optically thin, non-thermal corona above the disc. A fraction f ≳ 0.5 of total available power is dissipated in the corona. 

We model the soft component by multicolour blackbody disc emission taking into account the torque-free inner-boundary condition. If the disc extends down to the minimum stable orbit, the ASCA/RXTE data yield the most probable black hole mass of MX ≈ 10 M and an accretion rate, Ṁ ≈ 0.5LE/c2, locating Cyg X-1 in the soft state in the upper part of the stable, gas-pressure-dominated, accretion-disc solution branch. 

The spectrum of the corona is well modelled by repeated Compton scattering of seed photons from the disc off electrons with a hybrid, thermal/non-thermal distribution. The electron distribution can be characterized by a Maxwellian with an equilibrium temperature of kTe ∼ 30-50 keV, a Thomson optical depth of τ ∼ 0.3 and a quasi-power-law tail. The compactness of the corona is 2 ≲ ℓh ≲ 7, and a presence of a significant population of electron-positron pairs is ruled out.

We find strong signatures of Compton reflection from a cold and ionized medium, presumably an accretion disc, with an apparent reflector solid angle, Ω/2π ∼ 0.5-0.7. The reflected continuum is accompanied by a broad iron Ka line.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)496-512
Number of pages17
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 1999


  • Accretion, accretion discs
  • Gamma-rays: observations
  • Gamma-rays: theory
  • Radiation mechanisms: non-thermal
  • Stars: individual: Cygnus X-1
  • X-rays: stars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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